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Explore the Levels of Change Management

Five Tips For Developing People Managers as Coaches During Change

Written by Tim Creasey

5 Mins


Becoming a great leader of change and coach involves learning new skills and using new tools to engage effectively with impacted employees. And with the right support, people managers can grow into the well-equipped allies you need to support your project teams during change.

1. Get Them on Board With the Change

The first step in engaging managers and supervisors as leaders of change is getting them on board with the change. A manager must be supportive of a change before he or she can successfully lead direct reports through the change process. From an ADKAR perspective, this means that managers and supervisors have sufficient Awareness and Desire around the change itself before they begin engaging their direct reports. To achieve this, the change management plan must have specific elements aimed at building support with managers and supervisors.

The communication plan should include a section focused on people managers, explaining why the change is happening, the benefits of the change, and the nature of the change from the manager’s perspective. These communications should start very early in the project life cycle to ensure adequate time before the managers and supervisors are asked to communicate with their reports. In addition to general change messages, specific messages about the role of managers and supervisors and how to lead direct reports should be communicated. Communications should come from preferred senders, in this case the manager’s supervisor and leadership. Two-way communications are critical with this group to allow for exchanges and feedback.

Specific sponsorship activities in the overall change management plan should also be focused at the manager and supervisor group. Their leaders, and in some cases the managers themselves, are part of the coalition of leaders needed to drive the change forward.

Finally, resistance management planning should focus on the manager and supervisor group. In Prosci’s previous benchmarking studies, the manager and supervisor group was identified as the most resistant to change. Proactive resistance management plans that address the key concerns of managers and supervisors – such as loss of control and workload issues – are required to anticipate and mitigate resistance from managers and supervisors.

From a change management perspective, managers and supervisors should first be treated as a group of employees impacted by the change. The first step to engage this group in their role of leading change is to ensure that they are supportive of the change and that resistance from the group has been managed.

2. Share the Role You Expect

Sharing what you expect from managers and supervisors occurs at two levels – a high-level expectation about general involvement in times of change and a more detailed set of expectations about the specific roles of managers and supervisors in times of change.
It may seem obvious, but it is important to tell managers and supervisors how important their role is in driving successful change. Participants in the 2009 benchmarking study indicated the importance of manager and supervisor involvement in successful change – with 84% indicating “Extremely important” or “Very important”.

Once you have laid the foundation for the important role managers and supervisors play during a change, you can move on to specific expectations about activities.

On the specific roles of managers and supervisors, Prosci’s research has identified five primary roles played by a manager or supervisor during change. The five roles that emerged from the 2007 benchmarking effort were:

  • Communicate with direct reports about the change (Communicator)
  • Demonstrate support for the change (Advocate)
  • Coach employees through the change process (Coach)
  • Engage with and provide support to the project team (Liaison)
  • Identify and manage resistance (Resistance manager)

3. Build Competencies

“Leading change” is a personal competency that managers and supervisors can build. And, the competency is not necessarily natural. It takes a particular set of skills to lead a group of employees through a change process. Many times, there are great managers who struggle in times of change. Appreciating “leading change” as a unique personal competency and working to build that competency in managers and supervisors is a critical step, and one that is often overlooked.

Participants in the 2009 benchmarking study identified “coaching employees through the change process” and “identifying and managing resistance” as the two roles that managers struggle with the most. This is because these two roles typically represent new tasks and challenges, falling beyond the general skill set of many managers and supervisors.

Unfortunately, data also shows that only 40% of study participants provided formal change management training to managers and supervisors.

When “leading change” is recognized as a personal competency that can be built by managers and supervisors, organizations can begin providing training and professional development opportunities for this critical group. In times of change, having managers and supervisors that are also great leaders of change is central to success. Prosci offers a 1-day training program and a self-paced toolkit called the Change Management Guide for Managers. Both offerings take managers first through a process of preparing themselves for change and then on to managing change with their direct reports.

4. Provide Tools

Managers and supervisors not only need competencies in leading change, they need tools to help them help their people in times of change. Many times, the tools needed to manage change are different than the normal tools managers are familiar with using.

One of the most important tools you can provide to managers and supervisors is a model for understanding the human reaction to change. ADKAR is Prosci's individual change model and is a very powerful tool to put in the hands of managers and supervisors. By breaking down the change process into a simple and easy-to-use sequence - Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement - ADKAR gives managers and supervisors an approach to understand how their people experience change. The tool is equally powerful for identifying where a change is breaking down. Supervisors who can put ADKAR into action will have more productive discussions, be able to isolate issues and problems, and ultimately be in a better position to support their people though the change process. And, when changes are better managed at the employee-supervisor level, morale and productivity are improved. Read more about the ADKAR model and how it can be used to drive successful change in the book ADKAR: A model for change in business, government and our community.

There are a number of additional tools that should be provided to managers and supervisors as they are engaged as leaders of change, including:

  • Communication packets - Communicator was one of the five roles of managers and supervisors in times of change identified in the research. But what messages need to be communicated? Managers and supervisors should be provided with simple but comprehensive communications packets that contain the project information they are expected to convey to their direct reports.
  • Resistance management tools and tips - Resistance manager was another of the five roles of managers and supervisors, and the one that research participants identified as needing the most improvement. Tools that help managers and supervisor know what resistance might look like, where it is likely to show up and how to identify root causes of resistance are beneficial. Tips and suggestions for addressing resistance when it does occur in a proactive and effective manner can help managers to engage front-line employees.
  • Guidelines on how to measure performance - Changes are only successful when employees do their work in a different way, as prescribed by the project or change initiative. Managers and supervisors are in the best location to identify if changes are taking hold, and you can provide them with additional tools for understanding if a change is taking hold and if employees are "complying" with the new way of doing their jobs.

5. Provide Support

Managers and supervisors will need support when taking on their new "leader of change" role. Some of the tasks and responsibilities that come with being a good coach of employees through change are difficult. In many instances, this is a completely new undertaking for a manager or supervisor. You need to provide outlets and opportunities for support when managers are leading change.

One area of support necessary will be helping them implement the processes and tools you have provided for leading change. Opportunities to try out new approaches for identifying resistance in a safe setting can go a long way in helping managers and supervisors to be successful. Chances to practices "Question and Answer" sessions or delivery of key communication messages will help managers and supervisors to be more comfortable in their role as communicator. Support on these new roles goes beyond classroom learning, and practice is a great form of support.

You also need to tell this group where they can go for support. Resources could include peers who have already used the tools and processes or Subject Matter Experts who can provide guidance. Give managers and supervisors access to others in the organization who can provide suggestions and give feedback on how to coach employees through change.


Best Practices in Change Management - 2018 Edition Executive Summary